Best way to backup photos of 2024

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The best ways to backup photos make it simple and easy to securely and safely backup your photos and other images.

Best way to backup photos of 2024: quick menu

It's best to not just rely on keeping your photos on your computer, as hard drives can fail, and folders can be accidentally deleted. You really need to have some form of backup in place so you don't accidentally lose your precious images forever.

The ‘rule of three’ is the best way to backup your photos. This means using at least three different backup methods - two on-site, and one off-site to minimize, say, risk of fire or theft. 

Your computer can count as one backup option, while a second could be a USB flash drive or external hard drive, with backup software running your backups automatically to these at specific periods. A third off-premises option used to be difficult to do unless you burned everything to a CD/DVD and posted it out somewhere, such as your mums (yes, I've done that), but with the advent of cloud storage services it's easy to do this back up safely online.

However, it's one thing to know which type of devices and software services you need, it's another to know which are the best of each. We'll therefore try to keep things easy for you.

We’ve looked at some of the best ways to backup photos, from the easiest techniques to the best free backup software offering real value for money - whether you’re backing up your precious family memories or valued brand assets. 

Below we'll list what we think are the best ways to back up your photos, with handy tips and recommendations along the way.

We've also listed the best ways to share big files.

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The best ways to backup photos of 2024 in full:

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Recordable media

A collection of SD cards.

(Image credit: Future)

1. Use recordable media

Recordable media such as SD cards, CDs, and DVDs can all be a great way to backup your photos. MicroSD cards with 512GB or 1TB space are not uncommon now and will make it extremely convenient for you to store media without having to worry about transferring data every few weeks.

But a complication here is that if you're not careful, you could end up with a large collection that is difficult to organize.

This can be especially the case when dealing with SD cards from multiple cameras, or a growing pile of recorded CDs and even DVDs. This not only means things becoming potentially mixed up, but also lost or damaged.

Saving to recordable media is fine as a short-term solution. But it may not be the best way to backup photos in the long-term, especially when it comes to future photo organization and management (users of Adobe Lightroom and Lightroom alternatives, take note).

External drive

A collection of USB drives.

(Image credit: Pixabay)

2. Use an external drive

When it comes to using an external drive, most people might immediately think of a standalone SATA hard drive, connected up via USB to your computer. That's a perfectly fine way to run a set of backups, but with the caveat is that hard drives can fail. 

The best SSDs (Solid State Drives) are more stable, but tend to cost more. While reliability may seem like an initial plus, it does mean you will have to find space for the drive and connecting wires on your computer workspace. 

That may not seem like a big problem, but it would seem more ideal to reduce clutter so that backups won't get in your way. Additionally, you might not want to use up your limited number of USB ports with an "always on" external hard drive connection.

In that regard, a USB flash drive will probably be the simpler solution, as not only does it not require leads connecting up to your PC, but they can be easily stored away until needed, and easily portable for use on the go as well. Better still, USB flash drives tend to be relatively cheap while offering a large storage space.

In which case, saving to a single master USB stick can work well as a backup option for photos in general. However, the more devices and photos you have, the more difficult this can be to put in place.

Even still, the one advantage external hard drives have over recordable media is the bigger and cheaper storage space, with external hard drives now commonly offering over 1TB of storage or more.

Read more: The differences between SATA and NVMe SSDs

Software libraries

Website screenshot for a photo library in Adobe Lightroom.

(Image credit: Dave Stevenson)

3. Use multiple software libraries

The best offense for any potential disaster is a good defense. It's recommended you use multiple hardware options to backup and store your photos, and there are different software options you can use.

Apple used to offer Aperture to help organize photos, but there are alternatives available such as iPhoto Library Manager, and the same trick works in iPhoto as well.

The concept is simple: Move older, unused, and duplicate images to a separate library stored on an external drive, preferably one that doesn’t see daily use.

This tip works best when libraries are stored on some kind of redundant storage like a Drobo or network-attached storage (NAS hard drive), or in conjunction with the advice offered in our next method, which also has the benefit of freeing up precious internal space on modern flash storage drives.

Free cloud photo services

A representational image of a white cloud raining data on a blue background.

(Image credit: Pixabay)

4. Use free cloud photo services

When it comes to the best free cloud storage, mobile shutterbugs are increasingly embracing the convenience of carrying entire photo collections in their pockets using dedicated cloud photo services. 

Picturelife, Adobe Creative Cloud, and ThisLife make it easy to back up photos from any mobile or desktop device, providing an additional layer of security. They also offer the tools necessary to organize and edit photos from anywhere, no matter which device or web browser you happen to be on at the time.

However, there are plenty of free cloud photo storage options available - ideal as a secondary backup location. 

Amazon Photos is available to everyone, but free accounts are limited to 5GB storage. Prime subscribers get more. Uploading is easy - it's very similar to Google Photos. Remember to keep you account active to retain your photos. 

Google Photos is another free photo backup option, but there are limits to how much you can save before you need to subscribe to Google One. The only caveat is that Google will convert high resolution images into a slightly lower resolution. If that sounds drastic then don't worry, as for ordinary photos you're really not going to notice the difference. You can organize photos into albums, and a neat timeline feature means you can scroll through them by date.

Facebook is another online service where you can upload your photos for free, without any apparent limitations. As with other services, you can set them up into albums, which is handy as otherwise, Facebook will simply display the most recently uploaded in your photo tab. As with your Facebook posts, you can set sharing permissions, so that your photos are visible only to you, only to named friends and family, or else public for anyone to see.

Read more: The best photo storage and sharing sites.

We've also looked at what you need to know about paid vs free cloud storage.

Cloud storage

An abstract image of cloud storage.

(Image credit: Shutterstock/Marko Aliaksandr)

5. Cloud storage

If you happen to be a person who isn’t very proactive about keeping a good backup of digital photos, syncing them to a photo cloud storage platform is a great way to “set it and forget it.” Some of the more popular options cloud storage options include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive

You can also set the likes of Apple iCloud and Google Photos on your Android to automatically backup the Camera Roll. 

The same services also work with libraries from desktop applications, although you’ll want to make sure to save these files in a folder on internal or external storage that’s set up to sync from desktop to cloud for faster local access, rather than a network-based drive dependent upon internet access; Bitcasa offers such an option, and other cloud services can do the same using software like ExpanDrive.

The cloud is a good choice if you use software such as Adobe Photoshop. Like all Creative Cloud apps, the photo editor also includes a cloud storage backup option for subscribers, saving as you work, backing up as you go. 

Frankly, while free photo backup services have their place, modern paid-for cloud storage platforms can offer more space and versatility and can be overall much easier to manage as you're going to have far fewer limitations and restrictions in place. 

Print

(Image credit: Canon)

6. Print them out (just in case)

Unless your hobby is scrapbooking or you grew up in the Fotomat generation (kids, ask your parents), printing out thousands of digital photos might seem like a waste of money, time, and trees. Just because we’re so enamored with paperless photos now, the time may come when having a closet full of prints might be preferred or even come in handy. 

At the very least, they’re a decent hard copy that can be used to scan back into the computer, should the worst-case scenario transpire and your digital memories are wiped out.

You can use one of the best photo printers at home or in the office. But these days, online photo printing services like Shutterfly can be more affordable, offering unlimited photo storage from desktop or mobile devices (and yep, that counts as another backup). The company is quite aggressive with weekly deals to make prints, custom books, and other photo-based products on the cheap. 

And don’t forget your local drugstore or pharmacy, where similar services are offered with the convenience of being able to pick them up in-store and save on shipping.

Backup routine

(Image credit: Pixabay)

7. Backup, rinse, repeat

Last but not least, we can’t stress enough the importance of creating a solid backup routine to keep photos, videos, and files safe.  

Many of us don’t even bother printing their photos anymore since they can easily carry entire collections on a smartphone or tablet. These files are effectively your “negatives,” and should be treated as such - even if that means offloading a copy onto some form of storage media and shoving it in a shoebox, similar to what generations past did with the real thing.

Of course, keeping two copies of your digital photos in the same location isn’t necessarily a good idea, either. A fire, flood, or other natural disaster could wipe out everything you own in a heartbeat. 

This is where offline storage comes into play. Services like CrashPlan, Carbonite, or LiveDrive can securely back up entire desktop systems (including the digital photos stored there) for pennies per day without user interaction.

Now would also be a great time to invest in a new high-capacity USB 3.0 external hard drive (they’re quite cheap these days), and flip on Time Machine, the built-in backup software that comes standard with OS X. Many inexpensive NAS devices also support Time Machine, and products from Synology, ASUSTOR, and others can even access files remotely via mobile apps. Just be sure to make a backup of your backup every few years in case the original drive decides to meet its maker!


FAQs

The best ways to backup photos: How to choose

The best way to backup photos largely depends on your media shooting and storage needs. If you're a DSLR photographer, then using recordable media, like SD cards, is a great way to back up photos. 

External drives are handy when transferring and backing up media, especially large files like RAW format images and hi-res videos, from your camera or computer. 

Saving media to the cloud is a great way to ensure hardware damage won't make you lose access to your photos and videos. There are free and paid cloud photo services, but you will have to shell out fees for the maximum amount of cloud space.

Although you could print your photos as a way of backing them up, it's far easier to use backup software and ensure everything is stored safely. 

How we test

When testing the best ways to backup photos, we looked at a range of physical and virtual solutions. As habitable backer-uppers, some of these are already integrated into our lives, so we can offer first-hand experience.

In determining the best photo backup process, we've considered different ways to back up photos keeping in mind factors like pricing, ease of use, accessibility, file size limits, security, and overall reliability, among other things. 

We've also assessed how well each photo backup technique complements other solutions on the list, so you can create a 'rule of three' that fits your workflow. 

Read more on how we test, rate, and review products on TechRadar.

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Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.

With contributions from